On 10 July 2013, the Istiqlal party announced its spontaneous departure from the Moroccan government. As the second largest political party within the Moroccan parliament, forming part of the governing coalition along with the Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD), the repercussions of their exit are yet unknown. The PJD must now either find new coalition partners or hold early elections, and do so quickly. Istiqlal quit the coalition government amidst planned subsidy cuts in food and energy, announcing that they cannot be part of a decision that will so significantly influence the poor.
Five ministers belonging to the Istiqlal party have resigned from their posts, including the Minister for the Economy and Finance and the Minister for Energy. Many fear that this sudden upheaval could plunge the Moroccan government into chaos. The one remaining minister of Istiqlal, Mohamed El Ouafa, was given 24 hours to leave his position as Minister for Education. The deadline passed, yet El Ouafa still refuses to stand down, leaving the decision to be made by the person who holds final power in Morocco, King Mohammed VI.
The PJD Islamist party came to power in November 2011, following the introduction of a new constitution, which was welcomed by the Moroccan public and approved by national referendum. Amidst the Arab Spring and fears of a revolution, King Mohammed implemented a number of constitutional changes to preemptively quell a social uprising akin to that in Egypt. The changes transfer greater power to the parliament and obligate the king to choose the country’s prime minister from the largest political party. However, it is important to note that the ruling party can hold a maximum of 30% of the seats in parliament, thereby necessitating a coalition government and a status quo of power sharing. The king thus retains ultimate power.
Another bid to prevent the spillover of the Arab Spring onto the streets of Morocco came in the form of subsidies popular among Moroccans, including a costly pension system. Enhanced public spending may have abated a disgruntled public, but it also produced a large budget deficit. Economic growth has been stunted in the midst of external pressures, also contributing to Morocco’s economic downturn. The economic crisis facing Europe, Morocco’s primary trading partner, has had a significant impact on the country, as well as the regional instability throughout the Middle Eastern and North African nations, with which Morocco has very close ties.
King Mohammed managed to avert a social revolution and prevent dismissal from his position as head of state – a feat that a number of his powerful neighbours were unable to achieve. Despite his popular policies and constitutional changes, which allowed him this accomplishment, the changes are either too cosmetic or too short-sighted to last. As these decisions begin to unravel, drastic changes are required before catastrophe sets in. To curb government expenditure, the IMF has put pressure on the Moroccan government to more than halve the deficit from 7.1% to 3% by 2017. In return, Morocco was given credit worth $6.2 billion.
Reining in public subsidies will not be popular among the Moroccan people. As the Istiqlal party argues, the poor will feel the effects quickly and significantly, making an uprising more likely – particularly following the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi just a fortnight ago. However, with a heavy obligation to the IMF and an economic slowdown, which continues to plague Moroccan trading partners, the king and prime minister are backed into a corner with limited financial options. Perhaps Istiqlal, aware of impending demonstrations and social unrest, jumped ship in time to avoid the horrendous public backlash when spending cuts are implemented. Unfortunately, as a by-product of Istiqlal’s exit, political instability in Morocco will ensue slightly earlier than otherwise predicted.